We could call them the ‘pastor’s power pitfalls.’ There are many. Too many. It’s actually scary how much power a pastor wields – for good… and ill. It’s one of the key issues that has preoccupied me a lot about in the last few years while writing my culture of suspicion book (out VERY soon at all GOOD bookshops!). And I’ve witnessed (and struggled) under power-trip pastors. The worst thing, though, is how blissfully unaware they are of it. As one friend said of a church boss he struggled under for several years, “he’s like a drunk driver who never looks in the rear-view mirror.”
So what can be done. Well, it begins with where one begins… in one’s own heart.
There’s an old story (I think) I first heard John Lennox tell of an Irish pastor who was training up his new assistant. He took this chap (we’ll call him John) on a pastoral visit to the home of a congregant that we’ll call Fred.
Fred had seriously messed up – his whole life had gone haywire, his marriage was in real trouble as a result – and in many ways, he only had himself to blame. Things were really bad. And as they were walking to the house, the experienced pastor casually turned to his assistant and asked, “John, tell me – do you think you could ever see yourself in Fred’s shoes.”
John thought for a moment. Eventually he responded, ‘Well, it’s a terrible situation and my heart does go out to Fred. But I can’t imagine in all honesty it would ever come to that in my life.”
The senior man’s reply was immediate. “In that case, I think it would be best for you to go home and get on with something else, and I’ll go ahead on my own this time.”
I think of that story… often. Because not only have I failed often, but also because I know how much I could fail and fall in the future. And I know something of how it feels to be “pastored” by those who seem to suggest they’d always rise above the messes I’ve got myself into.
CS Lewis nailed it:
Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.
So here’s the radical thing: pastoring can never be about power over people; it has to be friendship alongside people. Anyone else who tries to get alongside me is someone I want to run a mile from.